Technology 3 min read

7 Materials That Make Asteroid Mining Worth it

Asteroid mining could provide the earth with many useful materials, including rare Earth elements. Luxembourg is one country keen on making that happen.

Vadim Sadovski | Shutterstock.com

Vadim Sadovski | Shutterstock.com

In less than a century, the human population has almost quadrupled, going from 2 billion in 1920 to 7.5 billion today, and it is expected to soar to over 11 billion by 2100.

With Earth reaching its limits, sustaining the world population and ensuring economic growth could require tapping into resources beyond the planet, such as the Moon and near-Earth objects (NEOs).

Asteroids, the Low-Hanging Fruits of Outer Space

It’s estimated that of the 600,000 NEOs in the solar system, about 16,000 of them pass “close” to Earth–within 1.3 Astronomical Units. These NEOs range in diameter from few meters to tens of kilometers. in fact, many of them come closer than the Moon.

As leftovers from the formation of the solar system, near-Earth asteroids are rocky, irregular bodies that oftentimes contain gases and water in addition to minerals and other elements.

Although it may look like an idyllic place for a weekend hike, Luxembourg is the world leader in asteroid mining. | Shutterstock

Luxembourg, the tiny, landlocked European duchy, is becoming a world center for asteroid mining, and is taking steps toward that goal.

In 2016, the Luxembourg government signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with asteroid mining startup Deep Space Industries (DSI) regarding their prospecting, extraction, and commercialization of space resources.

What can be Mined From Asteroids?

The composition of asteroids, and NEOs in general, is determined by their distance from the sun. Closer ones are mostly carbon, while the far ones are mostly made of silicate. Apart from water and gases, NEOs are ripe with elements and rare metals that are becoming more scarce and expensive on Earth.

Metallic NEOs are mainly made up of a mixture of 7 minerals: mostly iron (about 80%), gold, nickel, iridium, palladium, platinum, and magnesium, with other rare elements, such rhodium, osmium, and ruthenium.

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Just remember, if you have to blow up an asteroid to save the Earth, don’t ride the nuke!

An asteroid could contain far more platinum than the richest mines on Earth. According to Goldman Sachs, a single asteroid 500 meters in length may contain up to 175 times more platinum than the output of all landmines worldwide in one year.

You could even imagine asteroids serving as a rest area for long space missions, where crews could refuel and get necessary supplies.

But, as we were taught by Moon Express, the legislative framework for space mining missions–at least, in the U.S.–hasn’t been ironed out. Countries interested in mining resources from NEOs may have to address this problem sooner rather than later.

Read More: How to Become an Asteroid Mining Trillionaire

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comments (2)
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    Shannon Harrington March 24 at 1:39 pm GMT

    I find space mining amusing. 😲 Is it true that asteroids are stronger, harder to destroy than previously thought?

    • Profile Image
      Shiva Andure September 14 at 5:54 am GMT

      Yes it is easier than earlier.space mining still didn’t catch the fewer..but soon will.

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